We all have the same number of hours available to us in a day, but some people are able to accomplish more in 24 hours than everyone else. The key seems to be in controlling that time instead of letting it control you. In other words, the difference is time management.
What is time management
Time management is a technique for using your time more effectively. Organize your professional and personal tasks based on how urgent and important they are, and take care of the most urgent and important first, followed by activities that are not urgent but still important. By prioritizing your workload, you can focus your time and energy where they matter most.
The table below shows the Eisenhower Matrix, a popular time management strategy for assessing and prioritizing tasks. Each quadrant has examples for types of activities and the order in which to handle them.
|Important||1. Do first: crises and problems, hurt child, meeting with your manager, fix gas leak, assignment due today||2. Schedule: important ongoing projects, hire new staff member, booking dentist appointment, exercise, relationships|
|Not Important||3. Delegate if you can: unimportant meetings, some phone calls, unnecessary interruptions, low-priority email||4. Do last or don’t do at all: reading Facebook feed, watching TV, time wasters, sorting junk mail|
Are you good at time management?
Being good time at management involves conscious planning and thoughtful decision making. It also involves staying focused and sticking to your prioritized tasks rather than getting derailed by unimportant distractions.
If you want to know if you’re any good at time management, start by asking yourself these questions:
- Do I know how to effectively prioritize my tasks based on importance and urgency?
- Do I know how much time I spend on each of my various tasks?
- Do I have to take work home to get it done?
Once you’ve evaluated your current skills, make a plan to improve. It’s not easy, but like any skills you work on, you can get better at time management. Successful people utilize a variety of time management skills to boost productivity and effectiveness in their personal and professional lives.
Common pitfalls of time management
It’s easy to get off track when you’re trying to manage your time. To improve, you should try to avoid these common pitfalls:
- Pitfall 1: Not making a to-do list. If you don’t know what needs to be done, you can’t effectively prioritize your workload.
- Pitfall 2: Multitasking. Contrary to popular belief, multitasking is actually less productive than focusing on one task and then moving on to the next. That’s because our brains aren’t equipped to perform two tasks requiring high-level brain functions at the same time. Some studies show that multitasking can lower your IQ, because your attention is split, and might even damage your brain. (Yikes.)
- Pitfall 3: Not knowing how much time a task requires. Can you write the report in an hour or will it take three days? If you don’t know how long a task takes, you can’t effectively manage your time or prioritize your activities.
Seven time management skills practiced by successful people
It’s been proven that productivity leads to profitability and good time management skills can go straight to your bottom line, so to help you work more efficiently, we’ve rounded up some of the guidelines that drive successful people.
Start your day early
Ask successful people what time they get up in the morning and you’ll quickly see a theme: these folks are up at the crack of dawn to take full advantage of the day.
Business finance company Fleximize polled some of today’s most prominent figures about their morning habits. Here’s what it found.
- Apple CEO Tim Cook gets up at 5 a.m.
- Vogue editor Anna Wintour rises at 5:45 a.m. to play tennis before going into the office.
- And Oprah wakes up at 6 a.m. to meditate and run on the treadmill before heading to the studio.
Notice another helpful theme here: Exercise is a big part of successful people’s lives.
Set priorities and goals when planning your day
A daily work plan enables people to determine the course of their day and then make incremental progress toward their goals. (Some large, ongoing projects like drafting a marketing plan for your business fall into the second quadrant of the Eisenhower Matrix. It’s important but should be chipped away at rather than needing to be done now.)
Successful businesspeople recognize that there are both urgent and important matters every day. They approach the day knowing how to balance the two and save more menial tasks for later.
Rob Rawson, CEO of TimeManagement.com, works on his highest-priority items first thing in the morning before getting derailed by email and other trivial tasks. Breaking down goals into chunks makes it easier to actually progress toward achieving them.
Some career coaches suggest splitting your time into “focus” days and “buffer” days. The former is for big-picture things like business development and employee management. Buffer days, on the other hand, are for the nitty-gritty things like paperwork and accounting.
Focus on one task at a time
It’s very common to think that multitasking is the most efficient use of time. But it turns out that tackling multiple things at once can actually waste more time. Neuroscientist Earl Miller says that, for the most part, we simply can’t focus on more than one thing at a time.
“People can’t multitask very well, and when people say they can, they’re deluding themselves,” he says.
True efficiency means focusing on one thing at a time and finishing it before moving on to the next task.
Learn to delegate
You may wear many hats, but you can’t be in all places at all times. Take time to screen and hire the best employees so you can trust in your team. Then, instead of trying to do it all yourself, you can relinquish some control and assign tasks to those who are working for you.
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Apply the 80/20 rule
According to the Pareto Principle (i.e., the 80/20 rule), 20 percent of actions drive 80 percent of results. And the other 80 percent accounts for only 20 percent of results. Translated, this means that successful people know that the top priorities (or the top 20 percent) are going to drive the most important results. They delegate the rest.
Pencil in some time for distractions and interruptions
If you plan every day down to the second, you’ll never have time for unexpected challenges. Try to leave at least one hour each day for the unplanned. Also, it’s a good idea to schedule open office hours or make time available for colleagues and collaboration. If you overschedule yourself, you’re almost always going to fall behind.
Say no more often and master the art of short meetings
NewBrand Analytics CEO Kristin Muhlner believes that saying no is one of the keys to not overextending yourself, professionally and personally.
This goes hand in hand with saying yes to too many meetings, of which many companies are guilty. Successful people recognize which meetings are critical to attend and then either say no to others or hold them to a very short timeframe (social communication platform Skejul recommends 7 to 11 minutes as a benchmark).